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Left Grassroots Groups Helped Biden Win Georgia. Now They're Organizing to Flip the Senate.
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=57642"><span class="small">Nuala Bishari, In These Times</span></a>   
Wednesday, 23 December 2020 09:19

Bishari writes: "With hopes for a progressive agenda on the line, working class-led organizations are going all out to defeat the GOP in Georgia."

Warnock supporters in Georgia. (photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images)
Warnock supporters in Georgia. (photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Left Grassroots Groups Helped Biden Win Georgia. Now They're Organizing to Flip the Senate.

By Nuala Bishari, In These Times

23 December 20

With hopes for a progressive agenda on the line, working class-led organizations are going all out to defeat the GOP in Georgia.

n the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion, Geor­gia made head­lines as the state that went from red to blue, earn­ing a statewide win for Joe Biden by just under 12,000 votes. But as Biden pre­pares for his tran­si­tion to the White House, all eyes are once again on Geor­gia. On Jan. 5, two run-off races in the state will deter­mine whether Democ­rats or Repub­li­can will hold major­i­ty in the U.S. Sen­ate. Democ­rats Jon Ossoff and Rev­erend Raphael Warnock are chal­leng­ing incum­bent Repub­li­can Sens. David Per­due and Kel­ly Loef­fler, and the race looks tight.

After an exhaust­ing out­reach effort ahead of the Nov. 3 elec­tion, grass­roots orga­niz­ers and nation­al polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions have teamed up to once again get peo­ple out to the polls. But the strate­gies being employed this time around are dif­fer­ent: No longer is the empha­sis on flip­ping swing vot­ers, but rather on hold­ing deep, per­son­al con­ver­sa­tions in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, both on their doorsteps and over the phone.

After the gen­er­al elec­tion, Jade Brooks and her col­leagues at SONG Pow­er, a new 501©4 group born out of the LGBTQ social jus­tice orga­ni­za­tion South­ern­ers on New Ground, were drained. With their friends at Geor­gia Lati­no Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and nation­al Lati­no rights group Mijente, they’d knocked on more than 150,000 doors across Geor­gia over the sum­mer and fall to get out the vote for Biden.

But after Biden squeaked out a vic­to­ry in Geor­gia, while Democ­rats nation­wide failed to pro­duce a “blue wave,” it soon became clear the pos­si­bil­i­ty of flip­ping the Sen­ate would fall to Georgians.

“We’re tired, we’re scrap­py, this is kind of our first rodeo this year,” Brooks, a region­al orga­niz­ing lead with SONG Pow­er, told In These Times. “But we knew there were going to be so many nation­al groups com­ing into Geor­gia, so much mon­ey falling from the sky, what could we real­ly do? We brought it to our mem­bers in Geor­gia, and through a series of con­ver­sa­tions and calls, our mem­bers felt very strong­ly that we couldn’t sit the fight out.”

There’s a lot at stake. Biden’s abil­i­ty to imple­ment his agen­da — from push­ing through nom­i­na­tions, includ­ing poten­tial­ly to the Supreme Court, to pass­ing poli­cies such as fur­ther Covid relief and more expan­sive health­care — will depend heav­i­ly on whether he has a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­ate to work with. If either Ossoff or Warnock lose to their Repub­li­can oppo­nents, Mitch McConnell will retain con­trol over the Sen­ate, and he has already indi­cat­ed his inten­tion to block Biden and the Democ­rats at every turn.

Ear­ly vot­ing has already begun in Geor­gia, and polls show the races run­ning neck-and-neck. A Dec. 22 FiveThir­tyEight poll shows Ossoff hold­ing a 0.4% lead over Per­due and Warnock hold­ing a 0.9% lead over Loeffler.

With the future of the Sen­ate in Georgia’s hands, there has been no short­age of efforts to turn out Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers — both local­ly and nation­al­ly. GLAHR and Mijente set the ambi­tious goal of knock­ing on approx­i­mate­ly 290,000 Lati­nos’ doors across the state ahead of the runoffs. The nation­al youth-led cli­mate mobi­liza­tion group Sun­rise Move­ment holds phonebanks five days a week to gal­va­nize young Geor­gia voters.

Par­tic­u­lar empha­sis is being placed on turn­ing out Black vot­ers. The grass­roots group Black Vot­ers Mat­ter is dri­ving a bus around the state, meet­ing vot­ers face-to-face, hand­ing out free meals and host­ing concerts.

“With this lat­est bus tour, we’re send­ing a strong mes­sage across the state of Geor­gia: Black vot­ers made his­to­ry on Elec­tion Day, and we can do it again,” said Black Vot­ers Mat­ter cofounder Cliff Albright in a state­ment. “From the streets of Atlanta to rur­al com­mu­ni­ties like Ware Coun­ty, Black vot­ers in Geor­gia turned out in record num­bers and exer­cised their vot­ing pow­er. Now, we have anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty to make our voic­es heard, hold our lead­ers in the Sen­ate account­able, and remind them that we’ve got the power.”

The New Geor­gia Project, found­ed by for­mer Geor­gia con­gressper­son and guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Stacey Abrams, has thou­sands of vol­un­teers hit­ting the pave­ment to help peo­ple of col­or vote, with plans to reach one mil­lion house­holds before the polls close.

Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Geor­gia Project, believes the Black vote is key to flip­ping the Sen­ate. “The oppor­tu­ni­ty to impact the bal­ance of pow­er in the Sen­ate is absolute­ly dri­ving Geor­gians to come back out and vote,” she said on the pod­cast Runoff the Jew­els ear­li­er this month. “When we talk about this mul­tira­cial, mul­ti­eth­nic, mul­ti­lin­gual, multi­gen­er­a­tional pro­gres­sive major­i­ty that exists in the deep South, I want peo­ple to know that it’s real.”

SONG Pow­er, mean­while, has teamed up with People’s Action, a nation­al grass­roots orga­ni­za­tion that cen­ters the demands of work­ing-class peo­ple of col­or. Togeth­er, they cre­at­ed a robust plan to place thou­sands of “deep can­vass­ing” calls to rur­al Geor­gians ahead of the elec­tion, with the goal of lis­ten­ing to their expe­ri­ences — and inspir­ing them to hit the polls in sup­port of Ossoff and Warnock.

“There’s so many nation­al groups that are com­ing in with calls and texts, and frankly, they have more bells and whis­tles than us,” Brooks said. “So we leaned into part­ner­ships. The phone can­vass­ing we’re doing with People’s Action is real­ly cool because it enables us to have vol­un­teers from all over the coun­try do some­thing meaningful. “

Dan­ny Tim­pona, People’s Action’s deputy direc­tor of dis­trib­uted orga­niz­ing, was relieved when the group con­nect­ed with SONG Pow­er. People’s Action ral­lies peo­ple across the coun­try to cam­paign and phonebank for races through close col­lab­o­ra­tions with on-the-ground groups in each state. But despite hav­ing mem­ber orga­ni­za­tions in more than 30 states across the coun­try, Geor­gia wasn’t one of them.

“That in itself was like ‘oh my gosh, how are we going to do this?’” Tim­pona recalled. People’s Action began reach­ing out to pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions led by peo­ple of col­or, for what Tim­pona said was an intense two-week vet­ting process.

They were cau­tious about not want­i­ng to para­chute in. “It was an explorato­ry phase first of all, to see ‘are we need­ed?’ If we are need­ed, what pro­vides the best list for folks who are orga­niz­ing on the ground?” Tim­pona said.

In the end, SONG Pow­er was one of sev­er­al orga­ni­za­tions People’s Action teamed up with to devel­op a can­vass­ing plan.

For SONG Pow­er, the help was appre­ci­at­ed, and not only to get them through this next elec­tion. The part­ner­ship is grow­ing their con­tact list, enhanc­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to mobi­lize Geor­gians for future down-bal­lot races.

“We want to be able to call peo­ple after Jan­u­ary,” Brooks said. “After some of this nation­al atten­tion moves away from Geor­gia, we want to make sure they get a call from a local­ly-root­ed group invit­ing them into the move­ment long term.”

The col­lab­o­ra­tion goes beyond just the shar­ing of con­tacts and tech­nol­o­gy. Due to the nature of deep can­vass­ing — where phone calls can require in-depth knowl­edge of regions, pol­i­tics and local issues — People’s Action’s vol­un­teers need­ed prop­er train­ing. Togeth­er with SONG Pow­er, they devel­oped an hour-long train­ing video that teach­es callers how to lis­ten, and not just regur­gi­tate facts. Those well-trained vol­un­teers make calls with People’s Action three days a week, while SONG Pow­er runs small­er phonebanks to its exist­ing base.

“We real­ly lean into the fact that facts don’t change people’s minds, emo­tions and sto­ries and val­ues do,” Tim­pona explained. “It’s so rare for peo­ple to actu­al­ly feel lis­tened to, and to think that this per­son on the end of the line actu­al­ly cares. Our vol­un­teers real­ly take a lot of pride in cre­at­ing that space and know­ing how impor­tant this is not just for this elec­tion, but for every­thing we’re nav­i­gat­ing dur­ing the pandemic.”

In some ways, the piv­ot to focus­ing on just one state has made things simpler.

“In the fall we called into a dif­fer­ent state each night,” Tim­pona said. “It was like, Mon­day is Wis­con­sin, Tues­day is North Car­oli­na, Wednes­day is Penn­syl­va­nia, Thurs­day is Michi­gan, and Fri­day is Min­neso­ta. So in one sense it’s a lit­tle eas­i­er now, because we have more focus. But this is also a new state, new issue.”

With all eyes on Geor­gia, the scale of oper­a­tions is enor­mous. Ahead of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, People’s Action con­tact­ed 47.3 mil­lion vot­ers in bat­tle­ground states and had more than 280,000 in-depth phone conversations.

Ahead of the runoffs, the group plans to call 1 mil­lion peo­ple in rur­al Geor­gia alone.

Now that ear­ly vot­ing has start­ed, the strat­e­gy has shift­ed slight­ly to active­ly turn­ing out voters.

“There just hasn’t been infor­ma­tion about where peo­ple can go to vote, where ear­ly vot­ing is, should they return bal­lots in the mail, or should they return it in per­son,” Tim­pona said. “We’re real­ly dig­ging in and mak­ing sure peo­ple have all the answers they’re look­ing for, and all the infor­ma­tion they need.”

On the ground in Geor­gia, Brooks said SONG Pow­er plans to con­tin­ue its can­vass­ing efforts until the polls close on elec­tion day.

“Dur­ing the gen­er­al elec­tion there were tons of groups giv­ing rides to the polls,” she said. “We may just offer resources to oth­er groups that are sole­ly focused on that. But we do have this old church bus that’s kind of bro­ken down… maybe we’ll see if we can put that lit­tle beast in formation.”

Regard­less of the results on Jan. 5, both Tim­pona and Brooks see this mas­sive out­reach effort in Geor­gia as a way to build future relationships.

“It’s a very strong thread through all the con­ver­sa­tions that we’re hav­ing that a lot of peo­ple don’t feel a strong con­nec­tion with how the Sen­ate could actu­al­ly impact their life,” Tim­pona said. “Whether it’s rent, util­i­ties, cli­mate jus­tice, a job in health­care – there’s under­stand­ably the ques­tion ‘what can the gov­ern­ment do for me?’

“That’s the great thing about part­ner­ing. We know now that we can hand off the peo­ple that we talk to to race-build­ing, pow­er-build­ing orga­ni­za­tions after the elec­tion, so these con­ver­sa­tions we’re hav­ing are not just to turn out votes for Jan­u­ary 5.” your social media marketing partner